Given that we just launched 30 Challenges to Enlightenment — our epic self-actualization obstacle course — it seems appropriate to share a collection of some of the best quotes I’ve ever found on the nature of enlightenment.
Take these linguistic gemstones in slowly. Savor the words and contemplate deeply the myriad meanings and significations.
View these passages as secret treasures passed down to you through generations by some of the wisest humans who ever walked this Earth. Because, after all, that’s precisely what they are.
25 Rare Quotes on Enlightenment
“For one human being to seek enlightenment from another is like a grain of sand on the beach seeking enlightenment from another.”
— Terence Mckenna
“The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darkness.”
— Nikos Kazantzakis
“Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretence. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.”
“Enlightenment is the experience of intimacy with the entire universe. There is no separation whatsoever. You totally disappear in the process of uniting with the raw content of the present moment. And because you do, you have never been more alive.
Enlightenment is beyond the connection to me and mine; it’s past the illusion that you know who you are. In our world it is considered advantageous to have a positive self-image, but the wisdom of Buddhism is to let go of images altogether. There is a great deal of suffering in self-esteem. It’s nice when it’s around, but it comes and goes, utterly out of our control. This practice is headed in the direction of letting go of everything you think you are. Then you’re doing the same things other people are—eating rice and drinking tea—but you’re beginning to get a taste of what it is like to be free and clear, wholehearted and effortless.”
— Larry Rosenburg, Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation
“Suffering just means you’re having a bad dream. Happiness means you’re having a good dream. Enlightenment means getting out of the dream altogether.”
― Jed McKenna
“You may have expected that enlightenment would come Zap! instantaneous and permanent. This is unlikely. After the first ‘ah ha’ experience, it can be thought of as the thinning of a layer of clouds.”
— Ram Dass
“I’m simply saying that there is a way to be sane. I’m saying that you can get rid of all this insanity created by the past in you. Just by being a simple witness of your thought processes.
It is simply sitting silently, witnessing the thoughts, passing before you. Just witnessing, not interfering not even judging, because the moment you judge you have lost the pure witness. The moment you say ‘this is good, this is bad,’ you have already jumped onto the thought process.
It takes a little time to create a gap between the witness and the mind. Once the gap is there, you are in for a great surprise, that you are not the mind, that you are the witness, a watcher.
And this process of watching is the very alchemy of real religion. Because as you become more and more deeply rooted in witnessing, thoughts start disappearing. You are, but the mind is utterly empty.
That’s the moment of enlightenment. That is the moment that you become for the first time an unconditioned, sane, really free human being.”
“Enlightenment is any experience of expanding our consciousness beyond its present limits. We could also say that perfect enlightenment is realizing that we have no limits at all, and that the entire universe is alive.”
“When one of the emperors of China asked Bodhidharma (the Zen master who brought Zen from India to China) what enlightenment was, his answer was, “Lots of space, nothing holy.” Meditation is nothing holy. Therefore there’s nothing that you think or feel that somehow gets put in the category of “sin.” There’s nothing that you can think or feel that gets put in the category of “bad.” There’s nothing that you can think or feel that gets put in the category of “wrong.” It’s all good juicy stuff—the manure of waking up, the manure of achieving enlightenment, the art of living in the present moment.”
― Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living
“Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water.”
— Zen Proverb
“Therefore, the very impermanency of grass and tree, thicket and forest is the Buddha nature. The very impermanency of men and things, body and mind, is the Buddha nature. Nature and lands, mountains and rivers, are impermanent because they are the Buddha nature. Supreme and complete enlightenment, because it is impermanent, is the Buddha nature.”
— Dōgen Zenji
“Birds sing, fish swim, and people who are devoted to zazen do zazen with devotion all the time although there is no need for it. Our life is already fine the way it is. Everything that happens is already a manifestation of our original enlightenment even though we don’t know it. We don’t need to enter another condition or improve or disprove anything. The gentle rain of the Dharma is falling all the time evenly and freely on everything, and each thing receives that rain and uses it in its own way, each in a different way. The whole world is unfolding in a beautiful and perfect interplay of forces.”
— Norman Fischer
“Enlightenment is ego’s ultimate disappointment.”
― Chögyam Trungpa
“The enlightened one has become liberated and freed from all attachments by seeing as they really are the arising and passing away of feelings. The relishing of them, the danger from them, the release of them.”
“Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! ‘Have courage to use your own reason!’ — that is the motto of enlightenment.”
― Immanuel Kant
“It is quite natural, in pursuing enlightenment or just in trying to be happier, to look to your everyday experiences for signs of results. Indeed, your daily life is nothing else but an expression of your spiritual condition. Your life will change as you become more loving, but not in ways you can exactly predict. What happens is not important as how you react to what happens.”
― Thaddeus Golas
“Enlightenment is the unprogrammed state.”
― Jed McKenna
“I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop; the potion is losing its magic. It is plain that the object of my quest, the truth, lies not in the cup but in myself. The tea has called up in me, but does not itself understand, and can only repeat indefinitely with a gradual loss of strength, the same testimony; which I, too, cannot interpret, though I hope at least to be able to call upon the tea for it again and to find it there presently, intact and at my disposal, for my final enlightenment. I put down my cup and examine my own mind. It is for it to discover the truth. But how? What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond its own borders; when it, the seeker, is at once the dark region through which it must go seeking, where all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not so far exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.”
— Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time
“Enlightenment, joy, and peace can never be given to you by another. The well is inside you.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
“We had gotten over the feeling that one experience was going to make you enlightened forever. We saw that it wasn’t going to be that simple.”
— Ram Dass
“According to Vedanta, there are only two symptoms of enlightenment, just two indications that a transformation is taking place within you toward a higher consciousness. The first symptom is that you stop worrying. Things don’t bother you anymore. You become light-hearted and full of joy. The second symptom is that you encounter more and more meaningful coincidences in your life, more and more synchronicities. And this accelerates to the point where you actually experience the miraculous.”
— Carol Lynn Pearson
“Nobility is the aspiration to manifest glory for the benefit of others. Nobility is using whatever abilities we have in service of others. Nobility is seeking to fulfill our in-born human potential, and to develop all our in-born human qualities.
In Buddhism, nobility—or heroism—is a key aspect of enlightenment. Mahayana Buddhism often describes its ideal, the bodhisattva, in terms of ‘the noble virtues.’ The Tibetan translation of ‘bodhisattva’ is chang chub sem pa, which means ‘enlightened hero.’
— David Chapman
“Enlightenment means taking full responsibility for your life.”
― William Blake
“When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature, to our fundamental goodness. Another word for this is freedom—freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human.”
― Pema Chödrön, Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change
“If you think you’re enlightened go spend a week with your family.”
— Ram Dass
If you’re interested in becoming a more enlightened version of yourself, you need to check out our new course, 30 Challenges to Enlightenment. It’s a toolkit for breaking out of old patterns and claiming a High Existence.